Mate (pronounced ma-teh) is a caffeinated drink made of leaves and stems of Yerba mate (I. paraguariensis) and usually, hot water. It has been consumed in South America for centuries, and today it is still highly popular in countries such as Argentina, parts of Chile, South of Brazil (where mate is known as chimarrão), Paraguay and Uruguay.
It differs from tea or coffee on two main aspects: how it is prepared and how it is drunk. Yerba mate looks similar to loose green tea leaves although, depending on its origin and process, can have stems, different size, and hue of green. Mate is usually drunk from a gourd, which is also called ‘mate’ and with a bombilla (pronounced bombija), a metal straw with a strainer at the end.
As a social drink, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed with family and friends. In fact, it is not uncommon to see groups of people sharing a single mate on the street, in parks or even at the beach. It is drunk at any time of the day, and it is not usually offered in restaurants or bars.
Mate tastes differently depending on the type of yerba, and how it is prepared, but in its purest form (meaning: without sweeteners, fruits or other herbs) it has a distinct earthy and bitter flavor, which can be soft or strong depending on the content of stem (fewer stems means stronger flavor).
It’s considered an ‘acquired taste’ for some and highly praised for many; it is no doubt worth trying. It is also important to remember that mate is a versatile drink, so feel free to experiment with different types of yerbas or blends, trying it hot and cold, adding herbs, fruits, and spices.
Drinking yerba mate has many health benefits, as confirmed by the scientific research conducted in the last 30 years. It gives an amazing energy boost and stimulates mental and physical activity. Among other properties, mate is antioxidant, diuretic and it helps digestion as well as weight loss.
Yerba Mate is Not a Tea
Although often labeled as “Yerba Mate Tea”, it’s technically not a tea as it does not come from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub (bush) native to East Asia while yerba mate is a species of the holly genus, with the botanical name Ilex paraguariensis.